June 25th 2017

Society / Environment

Muranga senator, MCAs join opposition demands for halting of Sh6.8 billion project

"Extraction of the water will cause water shortage in already thirsty region. The people living downstream could very well lose benefit of water which has sustained their livelihood since time immemorial,” said Mr Gitura.

By Soilan Kenanaskenana@kenyafreepress.comThursday, 13 Oct 2016 15:30 EAT

The information board at the Muranga Northern Tunnel construction site.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga's demand for "a total audit" of the Sh6.8 billion Muranga project seems to be gaining support of local leaders even as Jubilee government officials work overtime to indict the former prime minister's claims over the project.

Local youth leaders, members of the county assembly and Muranga Senator Kembi Gitura have added their voice to Mr Odinga's calls, putting pressure on the Jubilee government in a region where President Uhuru Kenyatta enjoys solid political support.

As senator Gembi Gitura joined CORD co-chairs Johnson Muthama and James Orengo in calling for the halting of the project, State House communications director Dennis Itumbi launched what government sources said was a public debate on the project with a discussion on his Facebook page.

The director faced a barrage of questions when he opened the debate, with infuriated Kenyans putting him to task over the government’s failure to involve Murang’a people on the project. A majority of participants in the debate expressed opposition to the project and even vowed to reject members of parliament from the county supporting it in 2017 general elections.

In his statement, Senator Gitura appeared to confirm what Mr Odinga had said when he admitted that the tunnel would affect the aquifers between the three rivers (Maragua, Irati and Gikigie) and Ndakaini dam and also have a hazardous environmental effect on the people and the rivers as well.

Mr Gitura further pointed that it was not sustainable for the tunnel to depend solely on flood waters from the three said rivers. "Extraction of the water will cause water shortage in already thirsty region. The people living downstream could very well lose benefit of water which has sustained their livelihood since time immemorial,” he said.

He added that Muranga "cannot afford to repeat Ndakaini mistake" which he said continued to supply 75% of all the water needs of Nairobi without anything to show for Muranga people. “Since Nairobi produces 60% of our GDP, how much does the 75% of water contribute to the GDP and what does Murang’a have to show for it? These are issues that have been continuously swept under the carpet,” he said.

Addressing a press conference at Parliament Buildings, senators Muthama and Orengo demanded that the project be stopped and an environmental audit be undertaken. “CORD firmly stands for sustainable development, not quick half-baked ideas some of which are clearly very expensive and risky”, their statement said in part. They said the people of Murang’a, Ukambani, Garissa and the larger Tana River Delta are now earnestly awaiting an explanation as to why their rights were blatantly ignored and their livelihoods are now hanging dangerously.

Mr Gitura stood his ground  that it is time for Murang’a county to come out with a strategy of how best to sustainably utilize its water for its own benefit and those of others including Nairobi who may need the service. Murang’a should not give away its water as it were, only to buy it in the future when the need shall arise, he said adding, “We must think strategically and generate revenue to help develop our county”

In his public debate, Mr Itumbi responded to many questions raised which included Irungu Freddy's “How will we, as Murang’a residents benefit from the project, our waters?” Gilbert Kamau Gacacu asked, “What is the benefit to the Murang’as people? How logical is it to export water to other counties yet many homes in Muranga county do not have functional piped water?”

Wanjohi Karoga asked, “How is it viable, how does it make economic sense to invest over Sh6 billion to harvest water for at most 60 days in any year?” Ngugi Isaac on his part wondered “Why were the locals not sensitized? Why do you think Michuki opposed it, why is compensation not yet effected and why did it begin before Nema approval”

Others who contributed supported Mr Odinga’s statement on the project and dragged the name of former devolution CS Ann Waiguru accusing Mr Itumbi of having defended the former CS only to change tactic when she was finally indicted in the NYS saga.

On Monday, Mr Odinga released a lengthy statement questioning what he termed secrecy in the implementation of the Sh6.8 billion project, warning some regions would be turned to deserts "in five years," naming the regions as parts Garissa, Ukambani, Murang’a and parts of Coast.

Although the government - through its spokesman, Mr Eric Kiraithe, and Water Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa - has rubbished the claims, the project continues to elicit concern among the opposition.

One of Mr Odinga’s concerns, which were reiterated by Mombasa governor Mr Hassan Joho, was that the project was designed, commissioned and construction works commenced before an environmental impact assessment report was prepared and a licence issued by the National Environmental Management Authority (Nema).

Several members of the Muranga county assembly and religious leaders also called for the stoppage of the project.

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